Diagnosis_ danger - By Marie Ferrarella & Jenna Mills

Chapter 1

Natalya Pulaski closed the outer door to her third-floor office and flipped the lock. A heartfelt, weary sigh escaped her lips.

Well, that was the last of them.

Barring an emergency, she qualified, rubbing the raw spot on the side of her neck the last patient had awarded her when he made a sudden grab for the pendant that had dangled so temptingly before him. She had been leaning forward to check on the condition of the little boy’s ears at the time. The chain had bitten into her skin before she and Julian’s mother had managed to untangle the boy’s forceful little fingers from the death grip he had on her necklace.

Julian’s strength was head and shoulders above his age group, Natalya thought as she retreated to her inner office, turning lights off as she went. No doubt about it, Mr. and Mrs. Sands had a pro wrestler in their future.

And she, Natalya silently promised herself, had a hot bath in her immediate future. Visions of soaking in a tub amid fragrant bubbles had practically been all that had kept her going the last two hours of what felt like a marathon day.

It had been a marathon day, she reminded herself.

It had begun at six with a hysterical phone call from a first-time mother. Marion Walters thought that everything was an emergency when it came to her month-old baby. It had taken Natalya almost ten minutes to ascertain that the “horrible skin condition” was actually a bad case of diaper rash. Even in the silence that engulfed her now, Natalya could still hear a mixture of Marion’s wails accompanied by Justin’s lusty crying.

By the time she’d managed to calm the woman down, Natalya found herself wide-awake. With two hours to go before her actual day began, she’d decided she might as well get a jump on things and possibly finish early for a change.

Natalya smiled to herself. After all this time, she was still an optimist. The best laid plans of mice and men and newly minted pediatricians often went astray. In her case, it was because Vicki, her nurse/receptionist, had overbooked her once again. She was beginning to think that Vicki had trouble remembering how many minutes were in an hour.

Determined to see all of her patients in a timely fashion, Natalya found herself without so much as two minutes to rub together.

Her overcrowded day had left her struggling with a fairly uncommon bout of irritability. Although, in her own defense, trying to make an accurate diagnosis could be absolutely exasperating when over half her patients couldn’t answer her question “where does it hurt?”

Natalya shed her lab coat and hung it on the hook behind her door. That was probably the most frustrating part of being a pediatrician, she thought—the difficulty in communicating. Of course, sometimes it was still easier communicating with her young patients than it was talking with their parents. The latter were divided into two categories: those who were working parents who had taken time off to bring their child in and needed to get back to the rat race and those who were stay-at-home parents whose days were filled with wall-to-wall complaining. Both had one thing in common. They wanted their children cured yesterday.

She supposed she couldn’t blame them, Natalya mused, crossing to her desk. If she had kids and they were ill, she’d want them well again at the speed of light.

Not that that scenario was ever going to happen, she thought ruefully. The dire sentence she’d had pronounced to her at the age of eighteen was still as true now as it had been then. Because of a severe case of endometriosis, the joy of experiencing motherhood firsthand had been taken away from her. She was never going to be able to feel life moving inside her. Never going to push a tiny being out into the world after chewing off half her lower lip to keep from screaming.

What had happened at eighteen had shaped the rest of her life. When she’d entered medical school, there had never been a question as to what path she would take once the diploma was in her hand. If she couldn’t have a baby of her own, at least she could still hold them, help them, nurture them, which was why she’d become a pediatrician. And she kept very busy, so that the inherent loneliness of her life sentence never had a chance to infiltrate her soul for long.

But this pace did have its draining moments.

Natalya closed